Metro Council Moving West

June 16, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The 18-month search for new office space is all but over for the Grand Valley Metro Council, as Executive Director Don Stypula is taking the regional planner to the west bank of the Grand River.

Stypula recently told board members that a 10-year lease for 7,500 square feet of space in the Riverview Center at 678 Front Ave. NW is the council’s best option of the seven serious offers he received. The agency’s board members agreed and authorized him to negotiate the finalized version of a lease.

The rate is $12 a square foot, a cost that will automatically rise by 3 percent each year. But the term is gross, meaning the rate includes water, sewer, heat, air conditioning, insurance, janitorial services and parking. The council will get 25 spaces for staff and 25 for visitors in the lot at Front and Sixth Street across from the office building.

“We will eliminate our cost for parking. We will eliminate our annual cost for air conditioning. We will have none of that at the Riverview Center,” said Stypula.

Stypula bluntly told board members last August that it was becoming too expensive for the agency to stay in its fourth floor suite in the Trust Building, on the southeast corner of Pearl Street and Ottawa Avenue. The council was paying $14 a square foot for 7,500 square feet and facing a 5 percent annual rent hike Stypula said would cost the agency almost $100,000 this year, a figure that includes a yearly charge of $3,300 to cool the office during the summer season. Plus, the agency had to pay for parking.

Stypula estimated the council will save from $50,000 to $54,000 in operating expenses each year once the agency gets settled in on the third floor of the Riverview Center.

“This is a very modern office facility. We have the option to increase our space. It’s a very flexible space,” he said.

Oddly enough, the management team for the Trust Building is the same one at the Riverview Center — a fact that Stypula said turned out to be a plus for the Metro Council.

“They’ve been very amiable. They’ve given more than they’ve taken, which is very surprising,” he said of Riverview Center LLC.

“We were favorably impressed with all their efforts that went into this,” said Jim Buck, Grandville mayor and GVMC chairman.

Stypula said the council would spend about $140,000 to renovate and build out its space, which overlooks the river from the building’s top level. But the agency has to wait until the end of this year to begin that work.

The Internal Revenue Service is leaving the structure’s second floor and moving to Grand Rapids Township. Then the Post Office will relocate from the third floor to the vacant IRS space on the second level, a move that should be completed in late December. Stypula felt the council would be able to occupy its new office next March.

Gaines Township Supervisor Don Hilton liked the fact that the new lease contains a “six-month notice to get out” clause, which the agreement the council had with the Trust Building didn’t reportedly included.

“We did not have a deal breaker in the current contract, and that’s important,” he said.

The council’s 10-year lease at the Trust Building expires at the end of this year. The agency almost left that structure a decade ago, but eventually signed an extension.

“We tried to do it 10 years ago and we should have done it 10 years ago. This is a better location,” said Hilton.

“We had the same negative issues back then,” said Cy Moore, GVMC treasurer.

When he began the search, Stypula said space in downtown’s core was becoming too costly because of all the construction cranes that hovered over the district’s skyline.

“We like it downtown. But all the construction is driving up the rents downtown. It’s a good thing, but we’re a public corporation,” he said last August. “Next to salaries and benefits, rent is our biggest cost.”

Despite the expense, Stypula always has said that he wanted the Metro Council to remain in downtown Grand Rapids.

“It’s a proud place to be,” he recently said. “It’s a good place to be.”

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